By Matt Bentley
Microsoft discontinues support for Windows 7 in January 2020, meaning that it will be unsafe to use on the internet due to a lack of security updates.
It’s unfortunate as many, including me, prefer Windows 7 to Windows 8 or 10, but there are worse problems in the world presently.
At this point you’ve got two choices if you’re on Windows 7: upgrade your computer to Windows 10 or buy a new computer with Windows 10 on it.
Alternatively you could crossgrade to Linux or Mac, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.
The second option, buying a new computer, is something any computer enthusiast can probably advise you on. The first is something you can still do for free, with the right know-how and technical ability.
The know-how is something I can bestow upon you; the technical ability I can’t. If you or someone you know isn’t capable of doing this, please talk to me or any other seasoned computer technician about upgrading – otherwise you leave the window open for the more nefarious types to exploit your computer once it stops being protected in January.
Here’s how it works, for those interested.
Long ago in the age before time, also known as 2016, Microsoft ‘officially’ closed the free upgrade offer from Windows 7 to Windows 10. However, for reasons IT technicians are still trying to figure out, they still allow you to upgrade to Windows 10 and receive a valid Windows 10 license so long as you have a valid Windows 7 license.
You have to do a ‘clean’ install i.e. essentially wipe your computer, install windows 10 and copy everything back on, including reinstalling your programs, but for 99% of computers this works fine and you get a valid Windows 10 license as a result. The other 1% tend to be brand-name machines e.g. HP, with custom Windows 7 licenses.
If you choose to do this, it pays to take a few precautions first. For starters, you’re going to want to make a clone of your hard drive, so that if the upgrade doesn’t work for some reason, you can put the original installation back on. I recommend Macrium Reflect to do so, but you’ll need another computer and a larger hard drive than the one you’re cloning. You’ll also need to take the original hard drive out of your computer to do so. Alternatively you could take the original hard drive out, not back it up but simply replace it with a faster SSD drive to install Windows 10 onto.
The second step is to install Windows 10: you’ll need a spare flash drive of at least 8GB size to put the installer onto. To do so, download and run the Microsoft “Windows 10 installation media tool” (google it). It’s a ~4GB download. I recommend a 64-bit installation unless your Windows 7 installation was 32-bit. Once you’ve got the Windows 10 installer on your flash drive, boot the original computer off the flash drive. You may have to press a key such as ESC, F8, F10 or F12 when your computer starts to do so. Once booted the installation procedure should be relatively straightforward; when it asks for your license key, enter your Windows 7 key and you should be good to go.
Lastly, you’ll need to copy your data back on – this is where the backup of your original installation comes in handy. Using Macrium reflect (or whatever other hard drive backup software you’ve used), navigate to c:\Users\(your username) and copy your Documents, Pictures, etc folders to an external drive, then copy from that external drive to the new computer. Lastly, reinstall whatever programs you were using on the old computer. Once done I recommend hanging onto the old installation backup for at least a couple of months, in case you’ve missed something.
This article is the first I’ve written aimed at advanced users, and the reason for doing so is because otherwise I see that a lot of perfectly good computers might be tossed in the garbage due to Microsoft’s Machiavellian upgrade strategies. So use this knowledge well!
I will be continuing to offer my $150 Win7→Win10 upgrade package into the new year.
*Computer writer Matt Bentley is director of Bentley Home PC Support. Email Matt on email@example.com or phone 021-134-8576.